"Johnny Lingo gave eight cows to Sarita's father."
I'm reminded of it every time I see a woman belittling her
husband or a wife withering under her husband's scorn. I want to say to them,
"You should know why Johnny Lingo paid eight cows for his wife."
Johnny Lingo wasn't exactly his name. But that's what Shenkin,
the manager of the guest house on the Pacific island of Kiniwata, called him.
Shenkin was from Chicago and had a habit of Americanizing the names of the
islanders. But Johnny was mentioned by many people in many connections. If I
wanted to spend a few days on the neighboring island of Nurabandi, Johnny Lingo
would put me up. If I wanted to fish he could show me where the biting was best.
If it was pearls I sought, he would bring the best buys. The people of Kiniwata
all spoke highly of Johnny Lingo. Yet when they spoke they smiled, and the
smiles were slightly mocking.
"Get Johnny Lingo to help you find what you want and let him
do the bargaining," advised Shenkin. "Johnny knows how to make a deal."
"Johnny Lingo!" A boy seated nearby hooted the name and rocked
"What goes on?" I demanded. "everybody tells me to get in
touch with Johnny Lingo and then breaks up. Let me in on the joke."
"Oh, the people like to laugh," Shenkin said, shrugging.
"Johnny's the brightest, the strongest young man in the islands. And for his
age, the richest."
"But if he's all you say, what is there to laugh about?"
"Only one thing. Five months ago, at fall festival, Johnny
came to Kiniwata and found himself a wife. He paid her father eight
I knew enough about island customs to be impressed. Two or
three cows would buy a fair-to-middling wife, four or five a highly satisfactory
"Good Lord!" I said, "Eight cows! She must have beauty that
takes your breath away."
"She's not ugly," he conceded, and smiled a little. "But the
kindest could only call Sarita plain. Sam Karoo, her father, was afraid she'd be
left on his hands."
"But then he got eight cows for her? Isn't that
"Never been paid before."
"Yet you call Johnny's wife plain?"
"I said it would be kindness to call her plain. She was
skinny. She walked with her shoulders hunched and her head ducked. She was
scared of her own shadow."
"Well," I said, "I guess there's just no accounting for love."
"True enough," agreed the man. "And that's why the villagers
grin when they talk about Johnny. They get special satisfaction from the fact
that the sharpest trader in the islands was bested by dull old Sam
"No one knows and everyone wonders. All the cousins were
urging Sam to ask for three cows and hold out for two until he was sure Johnny'd
pay only one. Then Johnny came to Sam Karoo and said, 'Father of Sarita, I offer
eight cows for your daughter.' "
"Eight cows," I murmured. "I'd like to meet this Johnny
And I wanted fish. I wanted pearls. So the next afternoon I
beached my boat at Nurabandi. And I noticed as I asked directions to Johnny's
house that his name brought no sly smile to the lips of his fellow Nurabandians.
And when I met the slim, serious young man, when he welcomed me with grace to
his home, I was glad that from his own people he had respect unmingled with
mockery. We sat in his house and talked. Then he asked, "You come here from
"They speak of me on that island?"
"They say there's nothing I might want they you can't help me
He smiled gently. "My wife is from Kiniwata."
"Yes, I know."
"They speak of her?"
"What do they say?"
"Why, just..." The question caught me off balance. "They told
me you were married at festival time."
"Nothing more?" The curve of his eyebrows told me he knew
there had to be more.
"They also say the marriage settlement was eight cows." I
paused. "They wonder why."
"They ask that?" His eyes lightened with pleasure. "Everyone
in Kiniwata knows about the eight cows?"
"And in Nurabandi everyone knows it too." His chest expanded
with satisfaction. "Always and forever, when they speak of marriage settlements,
it will be remembered that Johnny Lingo paid eight cows for Sarita."
So that's the answer, I thought: vanity.
And then I saw her. I watched her enter the room to place
flowers on the table. She stood still a moment to smile at the young man beside
me. Then she went swiftly out again. She was the most beautiful woman I have
ever seen. The lift of her shoulders, the tilt of her chin, the sparkle of her
eyes all spelled a pride to which no one could deny her the right. I turned back
to Johnny Lingo and found him looking at me. "You admire her?" he murmured.
"She... she's glorious. But she's not Sarita from Kiniwata," I
"There's only one Sarita. Perhaps she does not look the way
they say she looked in Kiniwata."
"She doesn't. I heard she was homely. They all make fun of you
because you let yourself be cheated by Sam Karoo."
"You think eight cows were too many?" A smile slid over his
"No. But how can she be so different?"
"Do you ever think," he asked, "what it must mean to a woman
to know that her husband has settled on the lowest price for which she can be
bought? And then later, when the women talk, they boast of what their husbands
paid for them. One says four cows, another maybe six. How does she feel, the
woman who was sold for one or two? This could not happen to my Sarita."
"Then you did this just to make your wife happy?"
"I wanted Sarita to be happy, yes. But I wanted more than
that. You say she is different This is true. Many things can change a woman.
Things that happen inside, things that happen outside. But the thing that
matters most is what she thinks about herself. In Kiniwata, Sarita believed she
was worth nothing. Now she knows she is worth more than any other woman in the
"Then you wanted --"
"I wanted to marry Sarita. I loved her and no other
"But -- " I was close to understanding.
"But," he finished softly, "I wanted an eight-cow
What a great price has been paid by Christ to "buy" us to be
his "bride"! Do we truly appreciate that? Has the knowledge of the great value
he placed upon us changed us as it should?
"You were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your
body" (1Co 6:20).
"For you know that it was not with perishable things such as
silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to
you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without
blemish or defect" (1Pe 1:18,19).
"Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church
and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with
water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church,
without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless" (Eph